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100 years ago: Salford man leaps to his death after cigarette sparks Trafford factory blaze


This rather sad story comes fom the pages of the Salford City Reporter of September 1916 and tells of the rather unfortunate death of Salford man John Adcock.

On Saturday 10 September that year, 28-year-old John Adcock of Melbourne Street in Salford was working at the British Oil and Cake Mills factory in Trafford Park when a fire broke out.

When office boy George Warne saw flames licking out from a stack of palm oil sacks he raced upstairs to raise the alarm to his fellow workers.

The factory itself made oils for cooking and animal feed and several of the ingredients would be highly flammable if improperly stored.

Women pile high stacks of oil and cake feed for industry - © Imperial War Museum

Women pile high stacks of oil and cake feed for industry – © Imperial War Museum

Adcock and a Salford girl called Clara Pollitt were working on the top storey at the time.

While foreman William Slater spotted the flames and urged his other colleagues to evacuate, the pair had their means of escape cut off when the fire ripped through the building at lightning speed.

When the Manchester fire brigade were dispatched to the scene their only resort was to spread out vast cotton jumping sheets between the firefighters, shouting at the trapped workers to leap to safety.

Slater heard John Adcock shout from the top storey that he was going to jump.

Fire crews at London Road, Manchester, practice jumping sheet drills, 1915

Fire crews at London Road, Manchester, practice jumping sheet drills, 1915

Slater screamed back that he should wait until some wagons had been moved out of the way and a sheet could be put into place for him to jump into.

Clara Politt bravely made the 70ft leap but severely injured her back in the fall and was rushed to Salford Royal Hospital for treatment.

John Adcock was heard to shout that he was choking and was seen falling head first.

Tragically he he struck the sheet with such force that he went clean through it and suffered appalling head injuries from which he died instantly.

The County Coroner, Mr GS Lereche, held the resulting inquest where several interesting facts came to light.

Mr Seal, the HM Inspector of Factories, asked the office boy Warne if he was in the habit of smoking.

Nervously Warne he replied that he was, but never whilst he was in the building.

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One employee Harry Bond told the inquest that he had walked past the source of the blaze 10 minutes earlier and that he could not give the court an explanation as to how the fire started.

Harry Bond and Warne were complimented by the Coroner for trying to rescue both John Adcock and Clara Pollitt from the blaze.

It would be easy to suggest that the boy Warne had been smoking in the factory and had somehow discarded a lighted cigarette among the sacks – leaving responsibility for the deadly fire in his hands alone.

However, why would he risk his own life to warn Pollitt and Adcock when he could have quickly saved his own skin?

The Coroner then returned a verdict that John Adcock had died an ‘accidental death’.

It served as an urgent warning to others in the industry. and was yet another example of health and safety which would have to be tightened up in the coming years.

Main image: Greater Manchester Fire Museum

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Tony Flynn

SalfordOnline.com's Local History Editor and Senior Reporter.